No, not South Carolina.
Although Clay Helton has been much maligned for his ability to coach, develop players, recruit, or pretty much do anything related to the responsibilities of a head football coach, the team he has for the 2020 season is absolutely loaded. This team has a combination of a wealth of experienced returning starters and extremely talented young players that either were baptized by fire last year, or are now joining the team to contribute this year. Let's go position by position:
- Quarterback: This should be easy. Kedon Slovis was absurdly good as a true freshman starter last year. Coming in for the much-heralded JT Daniels, an all-world 5* recruit that tore his ACL in the second game, Slovis absolutely torched opposing defenses and the NCAA record books, setting a freshman completion percentage record of 71.8%. He struggled in a couple of games, namely Oregon (understandable) and BYU. He got injured a lot last season, having to leave games against Utah and Iowa early and missing the game against Washington as well, but threw for more than 400 yards in 4 games. He's a gunslinger that thrives in an air-raid offense, with help from his all-world wide receivers.
- Wide Receiver: This is just an embarrassment of riches for USC: Michael Pittman departed for the NFL, but they return Tyler Vaughns, who might have jumped as well, and Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, and will potentially add Kyle Ford, Gary Bryant Jr. and Bru McCoy to the rotation. There's not much to say about these guys other than that they're studs. Athletic freaks with great size that will run super fast, jump super high, have great ball skills, and run solid routes. This WR group is good enough to rival Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, and us as the best in the nation. USC likes to run 5-wide receiver sets with four WR and a tight end, or 11 personell with a running back and tight end, and they do a great job of creating space and spreading a defense out. Each of the WR are super quick and can make any defense pay for giving up too much space or taking a bad tackling angle.
- Offensive line: This group is a bit shakier. They lost both tackles from last year, including Austin Jackson, who may go in the first round. A big surprise, however, was the return of Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was their best offensive linemen last year at left guard. They also return center Brett Neilon, and right guard Jalen McKenzie, as well as guard Andrew Voorhees, who started for two years but missed last year due to injury. There are a lot of potential moves happening here, as Vera-Tucker could potentially move to left tackle, and G/T Liam Jimmons, who started a few games at guard due to injury last year, could lock down a starting spot. Redshirt Freshman Jason Rodriguez was a highly touted recruit that could also challenge for one. No one knows what this line will look like come the fall, but there's a lot of returning experience here from starters that had an up-and-down season.
- Tight End: Erik Krommenhoek is the returning starter here, but there's been lots of buzz about Daniel Imatorbhebhe returning to the team and getting a 6th year of eligibility. This is a group of athletic pass catchers also containing Jude Wolfe and Eric Rae returning from injury, that should again be good, not great, but will have an impact in the passing game.
- Running back: Expect a running back by committee approach here with Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, Kenan Christon, and Markese Stepp all being solid backs, but Stepp should really be the starter here. He's coming off an ankle surgery which might have limited him through spring practice but he should get the most carries even though Malepeai will be the "starter." Carr and Christon are the best receivers of the group, but they all should be able to catch passes effectively.
- Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach: Graham Harrell was hired last year from North Texas and his offense produced instant results, especially with USC's talent at receiver and quarterback. Look for the offense to retain or increase its productivity in year two of his system being implemented, as a year one to year two jump usually helps new offensive systems a lot.
Overall, this offense is loaded with talent, experience, and explosive potential, but will only go as far as the offensive line, coached by Tim Drevno, will take them. I'll do a second post later about USC's defense, which is also absurdly talented. Either way, after looking closely at USC's talent and experience going into this season, I'm getting more excited for their early season matchup with Alabama.